The right-leaning press was of one voice this morning on the subject of televised debates between the party leaders: their preferred candidate Theresa May need not trouble herself with such trivialities. The 180 degree U-Turn since the time when they were baying for Pa Broon to face Young Dave, only to see Nick Clegg hijack the whole shebang, has been executed for one good reason: our Prime Minister is not up to that particular job.
Ms May is not a natural performer in any kind of debate situation: the contrast with Mrs T in her pomp could not be more stark, and for the Tories more worrying. No Prime Minister since the end of the Thatcher premiership has had such total mastery of Prime Minister’s Questions (Young Dave was an assured presence at the dispatch box, but he could never achieve Mrs T’s command of every last fact, every last detail).
Those not yet up to speed on how bad a debate performer Theresa May really is should have been looking in on Prime Minister’s Questions earlier today: once again, she failed miserably to effectively answer Jeremy Corbyn - far less see him off - and was then felled by a haymaker of a back-bench question that any of her predecessors would have seen coming. It was not a good way to start a General Election campaign.
Jezza concentrated on trust: fine by him to call a snap election, but the PM had responded time and again to questions on the issue by stating unequivocally that there was not going to be one. She was “a Prime Minister who promised there wouldn’t be one, a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted”. She had promised, and broken that promise. Therefore she could not be trusted. And there was worse to come.
Dennis Skinner - still able to muster a formidable Commons presence - asked Ms May for a guarantee that all those Tories in the frame for election expense charges should not be allowed to stand as candidates. To allow them to do so would make this, he claimed, the most squalid campaign in his lifetime. She had the opportunity to take action to clean up her own Augean Stables. She did not: all of those involved would be free to stand again.
Is your name Theresa May? I want a word with you
But it was the intervention of former minister Yvette Cooper that floored the Prime Minister. Her attack was direct and to the point (moreso than Corbyn): “The prime minister yesterday said she was calling an election because parliament was blocking Brexit. But three quarters of MPs and two thirds of the Lords voted for article 50. So that’s not true, is it?” she started, and then swiftly followed through.
“And a month ago she told her official spokesman to rule out an early general election and that wasn’t true either, was it? She wants us to believe she is a woman of her word. Isn’t the truth that we can’t believe a single word she says?”
When Jezza fired back at Ms May’s boasts on her Government’s performance “If she's so proud of her record, why won't she debate it?”, it was all too clear why. Theresa May will be propped up by a compliant and corrupt press, shielded from anything her team cannot control, and will not venture anywhere near an actual debate.
As Labour and especially Ms Cooper showed today, that is because our Prime Minister is not up to it. As a result, she is, as Mrs T might have put it, frit.